Blackjack newbie's first time at a table!
NEWBIE'S FIRST BJ EXPERIENCES AT THE CAL, 4-8 OCT 2016
[Edit: Here is a link to my posting of my first CARD-COUNTING experiences at MSS, 2-6 APR 2017http://wizardofvegas.com/forum/gambling/blackjack/28642-confessions-of-a-first-time-card-counter/#post585962]
I already posted a TR that included stories about VP & Ultimate X, but this blog only covers blackjack.
I welcome comments from the more experienced as well as from fellow newbies!
Here's the "Initiation of LostWages" to his FIRST live BJ game. I was too nervous to sneak a photo on the BJ tables. But if it's pictures you enjoy, visit my food journey blog "Galloping Gourmet".
On 10/4/2016 at the Cal, without my wife, I played BJ with 2 consecutive dealers, 20 min/shift. Conditions: DD 3:2 BJ, dealer hits on S17, no SURR, no DAS, no RSA, machine shuffled, but not a CSM. The pace of this game (my very first) seemed quite fast for me, est 20-25 hands per 20-min shift, full tables of 4 or 5 players. Time was around 10:30 am, perfect! Overall noise level still reasonably quiet when I left about 40 min later.
OUTCOME: for $100 buy-in (sweated through 2 dealers), I won $65 <small round of applause 🤗>
My Newbie's observations and short stories follow, with my post-experience questions and comments at the end. I truly thank everyone helping me enjoy one of the best experiences I've had in a long while, and I welcome all your comments on any parts of my long posting!! It was great to be back in Las Vegas after more than 10 years! I did not take insurance, ignored side bets, and especially blinded myself to THE ONE "nasty" player on my right who was out to get me. I also opted not to drink alcohol at the table and recommend newbies don't drink either, but do stay hydrated with water! My mouth was parched the whole time, but probably due to nervousness. That's just me.
1. Penetration. OK, I know I don't count yet, but this is what I observed: 3 of the 5 dealers today cut 50-55%. The other 2 dealers were more card-counter "friendly" and the cut seemed to me slightly more favorable, at least 55-65%.
2. BJ Round #1. After my 40-min initiation with 2 dealers, I was tempted to play a 3rd dealer for another 20 min to make a full hour for my FIRST BJ experience. (I bet I would have lost my $65 win and then some!). However, the player to my right (losing on most of his doubles on what I considered non-BS) started to make snide remarks and "stink face" on all my plays, esp as I was winning. Since I am assertive- challenged, I chose the deaf ear approach and continued my "incorrect hits/stands" to make my chip pile tower over his! Tks everyone for your collective tips on "when to leave the table". I was so relieved to leave the table after my last win of a double down.
3. "Tip got tooked!" As I got ready to leave, I placed one last $5 bet in my circle, and told the dealer "This extra toke is a bet for you, then color me up", and placed that toke OUTSIDE and in front of my circle. However, either I wasn't as clear as I thought I was, or the dealer was just fast and possibly greedy, but she just grabbed the toke and said "Tokes for the dealer" and colored me up. This is the first time I touched a $100 chip! I didn't know any better about the miscommunication, so I left before I wet my pants with my $65 win.
4. I believe I left at the right time, as it was 65% of my buy-in. Forum posters say a 30-40% winning, or a short play of 30-45 min, is a good time to leave or take a break.
5. Bonus reward: I knew I only flat betted for my $100 buy-in, but with my biggest and warmest Hawaiian smile, I apologetically and politely asked the Pit Boss if she might comp me a little something for my first table experience. "Uncle <favorite Hawaiian salutation of respect/endearment>, lessee what can get fo' you!" <love dat pidgin>. Card insert, click-click-click, "Here, hon, go lunchnow!" And handed me a $15 credit coupon! Stupendous! My average bet was $5 for only 40 min of play. I didn't even deserve $1.25, the theoretical 25% of an avg $5 bet for an hour! I guess the computer showed I was "new" and not an undesirable.
5. BJ Round #2. I fully realize my Round #1 was partly (mostly?) beginner's luck, so my expectations were low. But another surprise awaited me: with my initial buy-in of $100, I managed to stretch my stay through 3 dealers - a full hour of relatively fast play (for me). This time I had very pleasant seat mates, on my right a $50-$100 bettor, and a $20-$40 bettor on my left. However, my low expectations could not slow down my excitement, and I found myself making newbie errors. For example, hitting vs standing on dealer's 2-6 vs my 12-16; miscounting a 19 and hitting to bust (I had at least 4 hands I just couldn't add when I got hit 5 times - brain freeze and adrenalin).
6. "Tip toke WON!" This time, I decided to be even more deliberate with my intentions. I could see the dealer was about to make last deal, and the replacement dealer had entered the area for shift change and tapped the table once (signal that "It's time for you to leave"?). I said "This is my last bet, so pls color me up afterwards." After a short pause, I clearly said, "I'd like to place this bet for you, shall we win together?" and put the toke right outside my circle facing the dealer. Fellow players gave a small handclap and words of "good play!", as I ended the evening with BJ for me AND dealer. My $100 buy-in left me with $17! 😄
7. Social interaction at 2 games: very poor, but listening to the suave ("other kind" of BS) talkers, I'm building up a usable vocabulary. I made an effort to make 10 comments at 1st game, and doubled down to 20 comments in 2nd game! That's how I found out that Cal dealers deal in 20 min shifts. I kinda like to watch them hand shuffle, and I noticed some dealers have superior aim when they pitch, others are less precise. Some dealers are robotic cold fish (I dislike those), and some have low level, intermittent small banter (I like those). Some are really adept at quick comebacks to any player's side comments, others have the non-stop "Duh" look.
8. BJ Round #3: Took the opportunity to play 3 consecutive hours because my wife and I came at quiet time, 11:45 - 14:45. Lost all 3 buy-ins of $100, but I credit BS helping me make sessions last pretty long (1 hr each buy-in session). This time, dealers were on 60-min shifts on shuffle machine tables (not CSM) , the same BJ conditions previously described. New experiences to share: a) Counting. This time I was much less tense, and I managed to count just SMALL cards the first few rounds. When I got a count of 5, I increased my bets to $15 and got rewarded 2 out of 3 times. When high card count reached 5, I reverted to $5 play. OK, I know that's not real card counting, but it's the best I could manage on my first outing. It REALLY made a difference that I got to go head-to/head (my secret wish!) for 50 min, till a (ploppy?) came at last 10 min. I'm still in "isolation" mode, and enjoyed the privacy of head-to-head play. b) Social. With less tension, my interaction skills went up from 20 to 30 to 40 words/comments per 60-min shift. One dealer was from Thailand, so I engaged in Thai pidgin, which gave her a kick. Next dealer was Filipino, so my Tagalog rattled out of me. These 2 dealers gave me at least 65-70% pen. c) BS execution. Again, less tension allowed me better concentration. I still made some addition errors, but way less than yesterday. So I am in progress of creating my comfort zone, and finding the tweaks that worked for me. As a beginner, I think I'd need to just FB and play BS until it gets "boring" or automatic - then I would have a stronger mindset to do "real" card counting. Would appreciate your comments - I have at least a year to prepare before our next trip! d) Seat partners. Today I was rewarded with the company of a most enjoyable and sharp player. He sat on my wife's left, and she was enthralled with his presence. Non-stop pleasant chatter for 60 min. He was up a couple hundred when we left. If he's using BS and card counting, it is well disguised as far as I can tell. He had something upbeat to say for his wins, losses, the time of day, weather report, you name it. Never a nasty word left his mouth. I would say every single dealer, Pit Boss, and cocktail waitress, and even passers-by knew him on sight. Jump to Round#5 for an unbelievable ending. I mean, like TOTALLY fairytale.
9. BJ Round #4. Same BJ conditions, early am, 2 pleasant elderly ladies playing $40-$50/hand, and occasionally $100! Ouch! Money bags! More relaxed now, I can count small cards without distraction, and I could count 4 to 5 cards in my own hand without getting too flustered. Mostly flatbetted, but if small card count went to 5, I bet $10. Though I won many times with my increased bets, I ended up even.
1. Post-experience questions/comments
a. Basic Strategy. Yes, I did memorize it, and I could correctly fill in blank BS sheets all day. Today, recalling what I memorized in a quiet room playing on a BJ trainer on an iPad (with NO distractions) did not prepare me for retrieving the same info in an active room filled with people, slot machine noises, fast games (for me it seemed fast), a nasty player making comments on your every play, and the adrenaline run on your first game with successive wins! So I did make errors because I couldn't count or make the right play on every deal.
b. Card Counting. On my first BJ outing, I could not concentrate on counting small or big cards, as I was too intensely into the game, minding my etiquette, keeping up with the flow of play (again, for me it was fast), and trying to add up when I asked for a hit 4 times in a row. Aaaargh! Calculator, please! To prepare for future trips, I have card counting trainers on my iPad, and now a real deck of (used) cards from the Cal. I certainly welcome suggestions.
c. Table Etiquette. 😇 I was an angel, and did not receive any reprimands from any of my 10 dealers! Held cards with only one hand, always had bet ready, made correct card signals or movements, placed double down bet to side of orig bet, deftly slid my cards under bet if I wanted to stand, etc.
d. Card counters. I was so tempted to mimic the bets (at least increasing my own a little bit) of the player on my right. His spread appeared to be $25-$200 (would that be a 1-8 spread?). However, his winning was not consistent when he ramped up. (Is that what you call riding the variance wave?) So I just FB'd all the way. Also, I was still too tense keeping up with the play.
e. BJ side bets. Don't panic, I did not give in to side bets, insurance, or lucky ladies. However, I don't recall reading a forum posting about the "Pair Square". (I sure wasn't looking, though). A couple on 1st and 3rd base on my table added a red chip to the Pair Square EVERY bet. They were up at least 10 black chips JUST on wins from PS. So, yes, I'm just curious if someone knows the odds? (Yes, I'll search the forum later). The Cal pays 10:1 on any pair, and 25:1 on a suited pair. Reminder: I've been playing DD BJ, about 65% pen.
f. BS card. I opted NOT to use it at the table. My 10-dealer experience tells me it would not have helped to have it in a quickly accessible spot. I was too nervous just counting 5 cards in my hand! But maybe a BS card could help other newbies. I had BS down pat, but I did have temporary brain freezes that prevented me adding up totals under 21, would you believe?
g. Playing mode. Unless you have already developed PS (not BS) or Partner Sweetness, I recommend playing by yourself. If you play with a significant other, select separate tables where you can't really interact, i.e., not even back to back. But again, that's just me. Some of you may have superior PS.😘
h. Winnings & losses. I started with 4 session bankrolls of $120 each, where the $20 was NO TOUCH UNLESS NEEDED FOR FINAL SPLIT & DOUBLE-DOWN. After drink tips (only water, refrained from all alcohol), dealer tips (I loved making my last bet with a toke for the dealer so I could say "Let's win my last bet together!"), and with enough small winnings to play VP Deuces Are Wild, I ended up about $150 ahead plus my $30 food coupon. I think my wife had similar results, but no coupons (she dislikes asking for anything, unless the asking is directed at me). I didn't bother asking her because what's hers is hers, and what's mine is hers too <go figure>.
I. BJ first timers: After you have BS down pat, try doing a recall of some cells under different conditions, each condition louder and busier than the last - music and TV on, talking to family or friends, and doing something else that ALSO requires full attention (but don't while driving!), etc. I was NOT prepared for my "first time". Maybe you will be. What kept me going? Quoting Romes, remember that "Playing it correctly means you've already won!!"
I think I won overall! 😅
Introduction: Our last trip to Las Vegas was over 10 years ago! We recently went on a 15-day vacation that included 5 days in Las Vegas, 6 days in Los Angeles, and a short 4-day turn-around cruise from Los Angeles to Ensensada, Mexico and back.
Even if taste preferences have a wide range of differences among WoV Forum posters, perhaps at least one or two entries will appeal to many of you! Enjoy some of our food adventures!
Vacations Hawaii Meal Couponshttp://www.boydvacationshawaii.com/
FYI, Hawaii comprises 8 islands . . . but locals say it's really 9. The 9th being Las Vegas. Here's one of many stories:http://www.thomascwilmer.com/how-las-vegas-became-the-9th-hawaiian-island/
Perhaps meal coupons are not a big deal for some of you. We're from the islands, and if meal coupons didn't come with your plane tickets, you got ripped off. So for our 5 night stay, we got 4 meals a day and one specialty meal, or a total of 13 meals. I'm talking 10 oz NY cut (ok, not Wagyu beef) to full Prime Rib buffet for just $5 more. Anyway, during our entire trip, we only had one pricey meal at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill in Caesars Palace, and spent a little extra for mid am or pm snacks (like ice cream on one day and Golden Gate shrimp cocktail on another). Not bad!
Main Street Station Omelet Bar (at center of Garden Court Buffet)http://www.mainstreetcasino.com/dine/garden-court-buffet
Chef Manny was non-stop entertainment, and he treated every customer as a VIP. I can put out a mean, moist omelet. But Chef Manny? He can do SIX at a time, have 30 second chats with EACH walk up, AND get all the orders out on time and perfectly plated. How long's the wait? 5 min max, but his banter makes you feel like "Why did it take you so long to walk the 12 or so steps to his plating side?" Oh, BTW, he's 1-man show. You can't help but WANT to leave a tip!
Mesa Grill at Caesars Palacehttp://mesagrill.com/photo-gallery
There is no mistaking the southwestern touch (a little spicy and vibrant, but not killer hot) in both the bread appetizers and the main meal and sides. Medium pricey, but good value for quality, superb service, delightful taste, and pleasant ambience. You start off with 3 different Bobby Flay breads. Good enough to ask for one basket refill, but other tables ordered 2 and 3 refills! We had great seats facing a 60ft TV wall with maybe 12 HD TVs (on the other side of our restaurant boundary). My wife ordered Chile Relleno, and I had the seared tuna. Spinach sides were sautéed soft to perfection, and garlic mashed potatoes heavenly. No room for desserts.
Kogi Taqueria (scroll down link for mouth-watering pictures)http://kogibbq.com/menu/#SweetChiliChickenQuesadilla
We opted for the small sit-down location instead of chasing the truck. "Fast food tacos & burritos" taqueria doesn't justify Chef Roy Kogi's Korea meets Mexico fusion.
Each $2.50 taco (3 normal bites?) was 3-napkin, munch-bursting and almost exploding with the juices dripping off the side of your mouth (before?) and after devouring . . . Give me more!
Four Leaf and Teahttps://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/four-leaf-los-angeles
I forgot to take a pix, but the coffee was delightfully strong, and the crepes not too sweet or chewy. You won't get filled on anything cloyingly sweet. Very dainty & clean, boutique-cute place, reasonably priced. Fast service, clean, adequate choices. Yumm! I borrowed the picture below from the collection of Yelp photos:
Shin-sen Gumi ("A group that picks new items")
A trending ramen place.
Not your $0.69 cup noodle from college days. Not my fav, but my wife's. I appreciated the wood table tops, BBQ wood decor, and the "it's happening here" ambience. Lines outside the door, min 30-45 min wait, but the surrounding 6 or 7 eateries had like only 2 or 3 people. Hmmm, Shin-Sen Gumi must be doing something right! The tuna carpaccio was to die for if you are a sashimi enthusiast. Melts in your mouth before you can bite into it.
$8.50 for 6 large pieces (2-bite serving size). Scrumptious because of the garnishes - shaved raw sweet onion, crispy fried garlic, scallions, and a ponzu sauce some enthusiasts might bathe in, or at least drink - I did the latter, and let my taste buds enjoy a rare touch of alcohol - Kirin on draft. I can't really rate the ramen because I have no basis of comparison, since I don't really track down who has the best ramen noodles. However, the braised pork belly was a delightful treat. Only 3 pieces, about 2 oz ea, served in a small cup of drinkable smooth broth, slightly on the sweet side, but surprisingly, little trace of oiliness or grease. I didn't take a picture, because it would not strike you as an appealing dish. How good was it? I could have eaten all 3 "small" pieces (3 match boxes?) with 3 cups of rice - that's how tasty and richly moist they were! Warning for peace-loving diners: this is a NOISY place, not for bringing a romantic date moment, because each greeting by the host, each order of the service staff, and any other thank you or good bye from any crew member is chimed (OK, shouted!) in unison by the rest of the crew - like and endless echo and shouting match. And don't forget, they're saying it in Japanese. You don't really know if they're swearing at you! Waiter who just got a tip: "What a lousy tip!" Chorus: "Yes, they were tightwads!" Uh-huh. I would still return to try the other delicacies!
Nick's is a very unassuming little cafe with maybe 16 outdoor seats and another 20-22 indoor seats around the original 1940s horseshoe
counter. Power Omelet: Perfectly grilled veggies, moist egg white omelet; avocados used were ripened to optimum flavor and maturity. Coffee medium strong, but enjoyably so. Pre-buttered toast was crunchy to an ideal chew and crunch.
Machida with carne asana and tortillas
I've been a sandwich person since my college days, so here's what I did with my power omelet: I divided my omelet into 3 servings, made 2 half-sandwiches with the toast, and ate the 1/3 omelet (middle, juiciest section) as is. Fast service, but so busy, they lost out on an additional sale for a blueberry muffin request - good, I was already full! Yum! Return again.
My before and after Power Omelet sandwich
Oh, I remembered to stop and smell the roses, but walked into this sign in front of Nick's Cafe. Made me feel good.
The "York Classic" was very smooth and had no scattered chips of unblended ice or berries. I didn't get a good angle on this bowl, because I was too greedy looking at the strawberries & bananas!
Base: Acai, Blueberry, Banana, Strawberry, Apple Juice. Toppings: whipped cream, sliced bananas & strawberries. Very refreshing.
I've never had an energy shot, but I was having the start of a sore throat, so I went for it. I knew the ginger would burn, and I would surely choke if I took the shot the right way. So I took the shot ones spoon at a time (you REALLY feel the burn trickle down your throat), until I managed to take all 2 oz! Don't laugh! Together with my throat spray and cough drops, I was able to actually clear my sore throat overnight.
Knuckle & Clawhttp://www.knuckleandclaw.com/
I'm falling off the fence on this one. Taste was fresh and moist and enjoyable. But you have to balance this against the following negatives: over-pricey to me ($10.50 for a tiny 1/2 roll), a cashier/receptionist/manager (?) who didn't know what a white Zinfandel was, unappealing presentation (food didn't have a bright and fresh look), an opening conversation at 6p with a gloomy and negative "We're out of clam chowder" and "draft beer xyz". Isn't that a great way to start the evening before you even order? And how can you be 86'd at the BEGINNING of the evening?
The smart play might have been a follow-up: "So have a draft or glass of wine on the house!" No upselling on their shucked oysters or lobster roll or anything. Basically "Whaddya want?" That's a turn-off for me. Well, let's be specific. Even if I got a free coupon and transportation here, I believe I would not return. I would not recommend anyone wasting time here. A night and day contrast with another seafood place follows.
EMC Raw Seafood and Oyster Barhttp://www.emcseafood.com/menu/koreatown-menu/
Shuckers at the seafood bar
How to judge the quality of these $1 oysters? Here's the pictorial evidence before, a close-up, and the aftermath.
Oysters Give Me More
Oysters No More
EMC is on the elegant side, all bar seats taken, and it seemed that only those "in the know" were here. It's an ideal place to dress a step above casual and bring or meet a date right after work. Good choice tonight! We came at 5p to catch the $1 happy hour dozen special: 3 each of Kusshi, Kumamoto, Shigoku, and Fat Bastard neatly shucked oysters with about 1 tsp of precious oyster liqueur still in the shell. No, I wouldn't know the differences between the oyster varieties unless you pointed it out, but each slurp just seemed to be more delicious than the previous. Accompaniments were a wine vinegar dip, traditional lemons, horseradish and cocktail sauce. These delicacies slipped luxuriously down the hatch, followed with a sip of a crisp-tasting well-chilled ginger beer. Clam chowder was top shelf, and clams are not even my fav!
Unlike the thicker glop served elsewhere, EMC's chowder was thinner, and you could count 6 plump clams with tender meat and potato cubes.
Have you been wondering WTH is EMC? Oh, that's for "Eat more clams", "Eat more crab", and "Eat more chowder". It would not be a problem to have ordered another dozen all to myself, but other eating plans were already made for the evening.
I thought I was being smart by taking a selfie of the store window. My iPhone camera showed the front view of the word "Pie Hole", but the picture taken still shows the "backwards" view. 😳
The pie was as good as, if not better than advertised! We splurged with old fashioned American crumble apple pie a la mode.
Pie Hole offers an interesting strong coffee called The District, a light blend of Kenyan and Ugandan beans, and labeled "Free Trade Organic". I wish we spent more time here, as I wanted to try the Nitro Cold Brew on Tap:
When nitrogen and coffee interact, a smoother, aerated coffee with a terrific creaminess is created. Acidity is diminished, there is a much more complex aroma, and through the micro-bubbles a flavorful palette is dispersed. The nitrogen keeps the coffee cold longer and ensures the best tasting and smoothest coffee you have ever tasted.
Myung In Dumplings http://myungin-dumplings.com
I disagree with Anthony Bourdain's praise of these dumplings, even if his photo with the owner is on the wall. I don't even feel the dumplings deserved a picture, but here's the menu. We went based on the Bourdain association.
But don't get me wrong, they are indeed enjoyable and delicious. However, it must be my inner Asian heritage saying they were not really that good, or as good as Bourdain would have you believe. . . While good tasting, for my taste buds, the dumplings I had were on the bland side. Our Chun Wah Kam in Pearl City, Hawaii (admittedly, Chinese "fast food") is way better hands down, and you don't need to mess with the seasoning or add any additional sauces. https://www.yelp.com/biz/chun-wah-kam-noodle-factory-aiea
Even WaiImalu Chop Suey has crispy gau gee literally the size of a man's fist - translate that as one giant fried dumpling, good for a meal, just add 1 scoop rice. Oh, sorry. Standard portion size is 5 pieces, so 5 scoops rice!
So why am I comparing two Chinese "fast food" places with a more exclusive Korean specialty dumpling restaurant? I did this to emphasize how "ordinary" I found the dumplings compared to two everyday home fast food favorites (at 1/2 the price too!). Had I selected a good dumping specialty place, it would be all over (no room for Myungin Dumplings to compete). Just Yelp Chun Wah Kam or Waimalu Chop Suey, and let the pictures (and reviews) do the talking.
Usually, I have no reason to talk about fast food. Maybe I was extra hungry from all the mall walking/shopping, but today's basic hamburger was much tastier than what I remembered from past visits (there's no In-N-Out Burger in Hawaii 😞).
A better burger?
Yes, a better burger!
Somehow, even with identical ingredients to a Big Mac, this 🍔 had more mouthfeel and took twice as long to eat as a Big Mac. I dunno, just saying.
This is not your typical "steak house". They truly specialize only in STANDING prime rib roast, but they do offer lobster tails.
Here's the place where you want to impress a date or celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or other special moment. Dress code is not black tie, but you'd actually WANT to dress up a level or two over "casual". Walking in was like going back to a colonial style dining experience, where all the "little" things mattered: a waiting room with prime rib bits (?) and large slices of roast potato to nibble on while waiting; a maitre d' at the entrance as well as in your corner of tables; old fashioned starched uniforms for the waitresses; salad forks separately chilled and offered AFTER they bowl spin and serve your salad; warm & crusty sourdough bread with salted butter; waiters who actually "crumb" your table after you're finished with main course; service staff who can gently sing "congratulations" or "happy birthday" without going overboard while they light a 1-candle dessert of what tasted and looked like a small portion of strawberry shortcake, complete with a small glass of champagne. Your date or companions or guests are sure to feel like royalty when you bring them to Lawry's. We each had different rib preferences: my stepson liked the bone-in, my wife liked the medium well cut, and I salivated for a small piece, but an endcut!
Buttered mushrooms were hot & steaming; asparagus cooked just right and no stringy pieces, and the Yorkshire pudding was a plus to have on your plate to help soak up precious prime rib juices.
Our Prime Rib carver was very fast, neat, and precise with his cuts and plating. House red was a luscious Cabernet Sauvignon, but we started with a most pleasant White Zinfandel.
Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria, GCM (Grand Central Market)http://www.oliowfp.com/
The Margherita Plus (10") was a "personal pan pizza", and that's where all comparisons stop. Besides the basil leaves, tomato sauce and THIN crusted pie, the lusciousness oozed out from the "Plus": instead of everyday mozzarella, they use "buratta". It's still mozzarella on the outside, but inside there's stracciatella (a soft cheese) and cream on the INSIDE! To die for.
Best wood-fired pizza burrata
Give me more!
The simpler, the better. Wexler's claim to fame is they smoke their meats and fish in-house.
We had an Everything Bagle & Lochs - paper thin slices of salmon, shaved onions, some capers, and a thin layer of cream cheese. Perfection calling for lots of lip-smacking!
Kazu Nori (The Original Hand Roll Bar)http://www.kazunorisushi.com/
Are we about to have fun or what?
Although I've been critiquing food since 1981, it's a first for me to say that I'm ok now with kicking the bucket, as I've enjoyed my first evening at Kazu Nori.
If you are not a temaki (hand roll) enthusiast, that's ok, read on to something else in this TR. But If you are a hand roll enthusiast, then ask why would you stand in line for 25-40 min to squeeze into a U-shaped counter seating 8 on three sides (wth the "bar" or service station on the 4th end), sitting on a bar stool, elbow to elbow with strangers, under a low and dimly lit ceiling, with a continuous line of noisy customers, 12 people deep out the door?
You patiently wait, because you've arrived at the doors of sushi heaven where two sushi chefs, 2 servers, and a roaming manager will serve you food delights that your mouth and palate didn't know existed.
How enjoyable was this journey? I have to repeat that had I kicked the bucket after my last mouthful, I would have been at peace with the world. Yes, it was that good. So good, in fact, that I told both my chef and the manager that I am hard pressed to return to the sushi and hand roll places I've frequented back home. There is absolutely no comparison possible and my best previous sushi places were like FIVE levels lower in quality and flavor.
If you ordered the 5-roll selection of lobster, yellow tail, crab, bay scallops, and toro (unbelievably priced at only $19 or $3.80/roll), the chef only serves them to you one at a time, not all 5 pieces at one serving. The picture doesn't do justice to the taste, but lighting conditions didn't favor a good shot or angle.
Your server takes your drink orders and ensures your place setting is complete with napkins, chopsticks, chilled shoyu, a small ramekin of wasabi and ginger, and a dipping saucer. Close quarters (like 4 ft away) allows the chef to easily observe when you're taking the last bite before he starts rolling the next one (each chef has his own monitor to log in what they've already served, so they know who gets what next).
There doesn't appear to be an order of service for your 5-roll selection, but when the chef approaches you, he gently places the hand roll in front of you, and softly announces what it is: "lobster . . . " Your mouth is ready to drool as you hold the temaki and feel a slight warmth. You make a gentle dip in your wasabi-soy ramekin and take your first bit. C-c-c-r-r-r-nch!
The nori (green seaweed wrap) is crisp, but doesn't crumble, and is certainly not chewy at all. The filling is expertly place end-to-end, so every bite has an entree flavor. Did you know they prepare the sushi rice in small batches (remember, the counter seat 24 people) EVERY 20 minutes? Yeah, we were there for about 80 min (40 min wait, 40 min devouring) and saw them swap out two large rice cooker bowls four times!
Timing is everything (see dining comments about timing on Carnival Cruise). From the time the chef completes the roll and places it on your setting is probably less than 8 seconds. Try to beat that in ANY sit-down restaurant.
In fact, when your teeth bite through the nori, your teeth will immediately sense the warmth of the sushi rice, then get flooded with the flavorful entree, your nostrils perk up, and then you sense more warmth as you complete your bite. Fresh is fresh. I opted to use my wasabi-soy saucer only every 3rd bite - that's how fresh ingredients should be enjoyed - with very little of anything else! The filling was so flavorful and fresh that for the first time in my hand roll eating experience, juices dripped onto my hands!
- I also ordered the halibut sashimi. When the server dropped it off, it looked like an incorrect order -- it looked like large Cheerios swimming in a small ponzu pond. (Yeah, I decided the picture did not look appetizing, but how deceiving was the taste!) How could that be? "Server! Did you bring me someone else's order?" No, it was correct. When I giddily tried the first "cheerio", I was immediately elevated to sashimi heaven. So sweet, tender, and enormously flavorful in such a tiny morsel. Give me more! But I shared it with my stepson and wife, and they too enjoyed it tremendously. So don't fret about presentation if you go to Kazu Nori.
- The manager came to check our experience, and we confirmed it was so pleasant. She invited us to try the sister restaurant "Sugarfish", which has a larger variety of sushi offerings. http://sugarfishsushi.com/los-angeles-menu/
- I chatted briefly with the chef when he brought my last roll, and told him I would have a very hard time going back to my old sushi places. He in turn rewarded me with a great big smile, indicating he appreciated my compliment.
Carmival Cruise (CC)
Main Dining Room:
Sadly, the food quality was not on par with the elegantly appointed dining table.
The seared tuna appetizer revealed some stringy & sinewy slices, and tasted totally un-seasoned; the chicken breast was bland like the grilled mahi-mahi. The dish that cried out for help the most was the seared scallops in a mushroom risotto.
I had genuine tears of sorrow to discover the risotto had dried up in the plate, and the scallops were chewy, i.e., overcooked. With exception to the stringy tuna slice, I don't think there is a problem getting good ingredients or a good chef to prepare the dishes. The problem, from my point of view, is the timing from "pick up!" (kitchen call to wait staff to bring prepared food out) to actual table delivery. It's at least 8-10 minutes too long, thereby allowing any dish to suffer (except maybe a ceviche, salad, or gazpacho). Recall that Kazu Nori serves within 8 seconds of dish completion.
Other outlets we tried: Guy Fieri's burgers were on-spot, served with seasoned fries and a whole selection of toppings we can self-serve. 24/7 pizza, soft serve ice cream, and deli were equally enjoyable, but just not the kind you would take pictures of or write home about. If you're not on a gourmet journey, you won't be disappointed with the everyday fare of breakfast buffet, taco bar, or even the 24/7 room service! It's a plus knowing that all this food is included in your fare (except for lobsters and prime beef cuts).
Master Chef (Chinese take-out)https://www.beyondmenu.com/25437/los-angeles/master-chef-restaurant-los-angeles-90012.aspx
Take-out, shmake-out . . . they're all the same, right? Well, at least not in this LA place.
The green beans were sautéed to perfection, and had just the right amount of heat, garlic and seasoning. The chow fun noodles were cooked al dente, and did not dissolve after sitting for 10 min (they didn't last long!). And the piece de resistance, orange chicken, at last was NOT smothered in gooey orange marmalade, but had a more authentic fresh orange taste; the accompanying scallions and a few slices of meat were also very tender. It's hard to describe the texture of the chicken pieces, but they were not flat slices of breast or thigh - the texture was closer to that of a thin slice of meat that shrinks or contracts into itself when cooked at just the right heat, thus creating nooks and valleys when lightly breaded and deep fried. Order again.
Chego (another restaurant of Chef Roy Kogi) - pick-up mealshttp://eatchego.com/
Bi bim bap is a Korean dish of "mixed rice" - the warm white rice is topped with namul (seasoned vegetables like bean sprouts, carrots, cabbage, and choi sum) and gochujang (a spicy and savory chili and fermented soy bean sauce), soy sauce, or doenjang (an assertively flavored, thick brown paste made from fermented soybeans and salt), and lastly a raw or fried egg and sliced meat.
However, the "Leafy T" that I ordered had most of the above PLUS: fried chili garlic tofu rice w/ fried egg, Thai basil, water spinach and fried shallots for only $8.00
What was different? I did not have a need to mix the bowl with a generous dollop of doenjang
- Each chopstick serving seemed to have more flavor than the last
- The bowl must have weighed about 1 1/2 lbs - I could only eat the first 1/2 lb portion!
- No skimping here. The deliciousness spread through all 3 inches of the bowl of rice.
My wife had the Chubby Pork Belly (each piece of meat was perfectly seasoned with a crispy skin), and my stepson had Tiny's Prime Rib Plate.
Maybe as I mature (ok, get older), I reach a satiation point very quickly, but my eating companions devoured their 1 1/2 lb bowls in like 15 min. I had the 1 lb remainder for 2 snacks the next day.
800 Degrees Pizzahttp://www.800degreespizza.com/menu/#new-menu-82616
Wood-burning over vs traditional ovens - you decide what you think is best!
The key to baking great pizza (beyond ingredients and just focusing upon baking) is hot and fast. So a properly preheated traditional brick oven in which you can bake a pie at 900F in 4 minutes will always be modestly superior to a properly preheated oven with a pizza stone in which you can bake a pie at 500F in 10 minutes and it will be vastly superior to an oven with no pizza stone that had no thermal inertia and which can't retain its heat when you open the door to put in the pie.
Selection of fresh toppings
Ready for the oven
Note: Although we consumed every crumb of this great pizza, I know service timing significantly improves the quality of the end product. At Olio's at the GCM, the pizza was on our table within 15 seconds coming out of the oven. However, at 800 degrees, the wait was at least 5-7 minutes - enough time for a wood-fired pizza to start drying up and losing the original "crunch" quality and savory sauce and cheese. 800 degrees still needs to iron out service issues, timing, and training staff to merchandise their wines, side dishes, and even their gelato! The counter staff were more concerned with "what size you want?", "what toppings you want?", and "do you want water?" Not a very productive or enjoyable conversation. To top it all, when the pizza finally came, the waiter returned apologetically to say he has to bring the pizza back becasue he forgot to have it cut. I prefer Olio's at GCM, but If I gave 800 degrees another try, I would make sure I watch them like a hawk, and will pick up my own pizza if they let me, because customers can actually see when their pizza is taken out of the oven.
High Speed at high heat is important to meter the CO2 production of the yeast prior to expiration and to insure the set up of the dough before the sauce and oils from toppings have a chance to permeate the dough (which in a prolonged bake, soak the dough and make the pie soggy.)
The magic of brick or stone lined ovens is that they hold the heat in, intensifying it and speeding the baking of the pizza crust, creating a light, crisp but chewy platform on which all the toppings and sauces rest. The way the pizza can rest directly on the oven floor lets the crust bake with conducive heat, resulting in the perfectly browned bottom that is in no way burnt, but cracks righteously when sliced and crunches in the teeth without being hard or burnt tasting.
After our 800 degrees pizza, we could not walk past the temptation standing between us and the parking lot:
So we had to get at least a small cup of one of these selections:
If you've often wondered about the differences between gelato and ice cream, here's a few thoughts about G E L A T O
- has more milk than cream and has lower calories/serving
- has less air incorporated, therefore it is more dense
- served at warmer temperature than ice cream, so it's more pliable
Ensenada, Mexico wine tour (yes, very well worth it, even if only 4 hours)
While it was tempting to save some bucks and arrange our own excursion, we decided to play safe and booked our offshore wine tour through Carnival Cruise (and no, we don't regret that!). We enjoyed about 2 hours at each of 2 wineries, L.A. Cetto and Casa Dona Lupe - quite a contrast in properties!
While both properties cautioned about only tasting 2 whites and 2 reds, they were both pretty liberal with your tasting frequency (burp!). Snacks were simple, but very delicious with all the wine choices.
L.A. Cetto is one of the largest wineries in Ensenada's family of over 50 wineries, quite modern-looking, clean, and bubbling staff who talked non-stop about wines.
View from the top
Wine Tasting Bar
Waiting for a taste!
Casa Dona Lupe was a contrast in properties, but we didn't get to see the operations part of the winery. The key attraction here was the large souvenir shop, a whole store of spiced, sweet, and savory jellies, and the outdoor tasting with freshly baked pizza snacks. Delicious wines and snacks, complemented by fresh outdoor relaxation.
Wine tasting picnic benches
Yes, pizza goes good with wine!
But the best part of this winery tour happened right in the bus! Most of the time, Pedro (our tour guide) said he has a bus load of 30-44 passengers. However, since we were only a group of 18, Pedro wanted to do 2 special side trips for us:
First, he wanted us to taste his favorite snack: birria tacos. They look the same as any taco, but it's actually a rustic hodge podge of meats stewed into oblivion so that it melts in your mouth. So on the way to the first winery (about a 20 min drive), we stopped at his birria taqueria, and he ordered 18 plates to go (actually 20, to include himself and the driver). "Excelente!" was the phrase of the day. With 20 plates in hand, we take off and to my surprise, Pedro starts assembling everyone's birria taco with the meat, a spoonful of diced onions, fresh cilantro, a few drops of "heat", and personally served each of the 18 passengers! What a treat, and indeed, what a special taste of a different taco! Excelente! Where's the wine? (L.A. Cetto winery gave each of us a complimentary bottle of wine to bring home).
Two or three bites?
The second treat was after we finished the tour of L.A. Cetto - we got to park and take pictures at the private banquet area of the owners, which even had a private bull fighting arena or "Plaza de Toros". The view was absolutely pristine and breath-taking. With a high-speed camera, I might have been able to capture my first sighting of a hummingbird, just about 10 feet from the railing!
Plaza de Toros
Natural floral beauty
Pali Momi Medical Center (huh?) 🤒
Sadly, upon our return from a 15-day trip, I developed low level pneumonia leaving me as an SOB (Shortness of Breath) in-patient (not the other "SOB"). The downtown casino smoke had overcome me, and the long walks in the casino, downtown, shopping, Los Angeles shopping and dining, the cruise ship, and the two winery tours in Ensenada, Mexico collectively beat me up.
Chef's Salad with lo-fat everything!
Tofu Stir Fry
But I did eat decent and healthy meals 😋, got my oxygen intakes and antibiotics, and now have at least a year to get ready for our next trip!
Hope you enjoyed this Galloping Gourmet journey!